26 October 2021
Protesters from villages near Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape closed the R61 on Monday with rocks and burning tyres, demanding better roads, houses, water and electricity.
Police used rubber bullets to disperse the protest.
The protesters said the IntsikaYethu Local Municipality had built a gravel road in 2013 but left it unfinished. They said for the past eight years they had been begging the municipality to fix it with no luck.
Community leader Mzikhona Mtini said when residents threatened not to vote in the upcoming local government elections, the municipality had sent a tractor-loader-backhoe (TLB) vehicle to fix the road but the vehicle broke water pipes installed by residents. Mtini said the residents stopped the work and called the municipality to fix the broken pipes but no one came.
“They only came to fetch the driver later, leaving us with no water and that angered residents,” said Mtini.
“Those pipes we bought ourselves after they failed to provide us with clean water. We donated money, R5 to R20 from each house, to buy water pipes. People volunteered their time to dig trenches from the mountain to the village so we can have water. Now they break them and refuse to fix, we are not going to allow that,” said Mtini
When GroundUp arrived at the protest, IntsikaYethu Speaker Khanyiswa Mdleleni was addressing residents.
She told residents that the municipality can only help if they know what residents’ grievances are.
Resident Zakuya Mzinani said community grievances had not changed since 2004. “We had so many meetings with IntsikaYethu asking for basic service delivery but got ignored. In this community people have donated their money to send people to your offices several times with the same grievances but we never received help,” Mzinani told Mdleleni.
“Since the year 2000 we asked for clean water. IntsikaYethu together with Chris Hani [District Municipality] failed to provide us with water. We worked hard to install our taps - those that are dry now because of your TLB. When we asked for toilets, you only provided us with cement and a door. We had to dig our holes to build our own toilets. People who could not do it for themselves had to pay people to build them. Most of those toilets are old and full. People are now relieving themselves in open fields,” said Mzinani.
“For years we have been asking for electricity and in 2016 you did provide us with electricity, but for the past five years we have been telling you that this electricity is useless to us because we are always without it. Almost every day here we have electricity cuts and they last for hours, sometimes days. When it is raining we must forget about having electricity,” he said.
“As for the access roads, we are tired of fixing them ourselves. Your contractor left big rocks there claiming to be building a road. The bridge you promised to build in 2017 - the material is still there,” he said.
“Residents had to donate money to buy cement so our cars can cross the river to another village,” he said.
Mzinani told municipal officials that in 2013 people had been promised houses. Some residents were forced to destroy their mud houses to make way for RDP houses, but the housing contractor has not returned.
He said residents had vowed not to vote until all their grievances are taken care of.
Responding to residents, Mayor Bongani Mpengesi said he had sent the TLB to fix the gravel road but residents had chased it away.
“You had no right to chase the TLB away. You should have informed me first about the broken pipes. Now I’m telling you I will not fix the road,” he said.
Residents started shouting at him.
Mdleleni intervened trying to calm the situation but residents told Mpengesi that he is no longer allowed in their area.
Mzinani said this was not the first time Mpengesi showed a lack of respect for residents. “We will not continue begging,” he said.
Some of the protesters had come from Qitsi village, 20km away from the R61, and some from Zixinene village.
Zizinene resident Nolihle Gwadiso said she had to cross a river to get to Cofimvaba. When it rained she did not go, she said. Children also crossed the river to school.
Nonisoni Buntse, 71, is one of those who was promised a house in 2013.
“The officials who came here told me to destroy my house to make way for an RDP house. I begged them to use another open space next to the house but they refused,” she said.
She demolished her mud house and now lives in a single rondavel.
“Here it was me and my neighbour who were promised houses. She passed away waiting. And by the look of things I will also die waiting for the RDP,” she said
“I’m a voter, I have been voting since 1994, but in this upcoming local election I’m not going to vote,” she said.
Eastern Cape Human Settlements spokesperson Yanga Funani said the housing project was “currently stalled” and the tender for a new contract would be advertised next month. “We anticipate to unblock the project in this Financial Year (2021-22) for appointment of service providers and contractors,” he said.